So when was the last time you had some offal for dinner? Or what is offal some might even ask? Well there was a time when all the yucky bits of the animal were just as prized as the yum fleshy bits; I am talking about the organs like brain, tongue, heart, liver, kidney and the stomach, sweetbreads, blood and lungs. There are a few other bits too from nose to tail if you know your biology but I think we have enough to be going on with for now.
Butcher counters in bygone years would see them all displayed along with the choice cuts of steaks and chicken and customers on all budgets were very happy to have them at least a couple of times a week on the dinner table. They were indeed prized as not only were they full of rich flavour but they were value for money and actually much more nutritious than the so called prime meat cuts. Cooking them took a bit more skill too and the most important thing was freshness, the organs went off much quicker than the flesh.
So what happened that Offal went out of fashion? Well a few reasons, we just got rich and picky for starters. Then mass meat factory production allowed the choice cuts for everyone at affordable prices. The challenge to cook them right was another one and finally the stigma of them crept in and their reputation nosedived. Well maybe not that part. All this change came about in my lifetime and I saw it in catering too. Now these animal cuts are going to the cats and dogs literally.
Try buying a few chicken livers to make a pate at home and you will struggle to get any. Or fresh lamb kidneys to toss in the pan. I cannot remember the last time I saw any real offal in a supermarket meat section. The consumer has just switched off and it is sad that a whole area of cooking and the recipes and skills that go with it has died a death. Okay we still enjoy our black and white puddings but that might be about it.
The irony is there are lots of people out there who will still eat real offal as I saw once saw while putting fifty braised lamb hearts on a large work canteen menu in Dublin and they were gone in the first half hour. I recall having to make hundreds of bite sized bread crumbed lamb brain fritters as a free bar snack for a Melbourne pub and every morsel being devoured by punters.
On the continent you will still see offal on menus; I used to have to make foie gras from scratch in France, this de luxe goose liver pate is still so revered and though a controversial food it is produced ethically now. In Scotland I had delicious haggis which really is essentially an offal product, in a good way. Sales have never been better for it and it’s trendy in London these days.
The tide has turned though even in the meat trade and I remember asking craft association butchers here about offal when I was training them in cooking workshops and judging their competitions back in the noughties. They would not even eat offal themselves when I produced a few samples for them to try. They said if they had a counter full of offal it would end up in the bin at the end of the week. That summed it all up to me.
My favourite offal dish would have to be the best of the animal livers and that is from veal. Thinly slice it into an escalope, season lightly and then sear in a hot pan with a little oil and butter until just pink. Serve this with a rich red wine or brandy cream sauce, maybe some wild mushrooms or sauté onions and real buttery mash. You will then see why it is such a loss to gastronomy with the demise of offal. Good luck trying to find fresh veal liver, but a pork, beef or lamb one will work too.